Go for Zucker!
2004, NR, 90 min. Directed by Dani Levy. Starring Henry Hübchen, Udo Samel, Hannelore Elsner, Golda Tencer, Steffen Groth, Anja Franke, Sebastian Blomberg.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., March 31, 2006
AFS@Dobie “That poor guy,” says one of Jakob Zucker’s nosy neighbors. “He’s had nothing but rotten luck since the wall fell.” “Yeah,” the other agrees. “And he’s a Jew, too!” Indeed, Zucker (Hübchen) is having an eventful week: To win their mother’s inheritance, he and his Orthodox half-brother (Samel) have to sit shiva for a week and resolve their many differences – a particular challenge since Zucker is a pool sharp, a con man, and a brothelier, and the Fifth European Pool Classics are one day away. He doesn’t even have a mezuzah. As the two families collide, the film – which is otherwise a pleasant Euro-farce with a mellow 1970s vibe – dredges its characters’ shared history to explore the challenges of political and personal reunification. Can a Communist brother from the East reconcile with his devout and godly West German brother, or will Zucker be driven into a coma? Or both? (“The wall dividing our family never fell,” the brother notes sadly.) Some reviewers have faulted the film for turning Germany’s complex ideological history into fodder for a slappy family farce, but while the movie is in fact slappy (it’s also perhaps a bit too cutely snappy), it’s not lightweight, and it is typical of German filmmakers’ recent trend of using genre film as a forum for discussing the nation’s postwar legacy. (See also Joyeux Noël, a primarily French but international production with a conventional “war is hell” dramatic storyline that is set in the foxholes of World War I but is “about” everything that’s happened since.) As a comedy, Zucker is pleasant and spry but not truly exceptional. Hübchen is fine as the film’s lovable screwup, rumpled and exasperated by how the demands of history have befallen him. We see Judaic life and ritual through his stubbornly secular and self-interested eyes, so brother Samuel’s family appears cartoonishly über-Jewish; viewers may read this as a fault in the film, but Levy’s intention is probably to prove how marginalized Judaism is in modern Germany, despite ostensible decades of healing since the Holocaust. It’s not quite masterful enough to achieve all its goals, but Zucker is undeniably ambitious despite its relatively lowbrow and farcical approach.